The Art and Economics of Charcuterie
Written by Amanda McDougall and JJ Proville; video and photos by Antoinette Bruno
In-house charcuterie programs have experienced exponential growth over the past two years. It is arguably the biggest and most far-reaching trend we’ve seen—bordering on an all out culinary movement. US Chefs are learning the craft—from old school/Old World techniques to more modern ones—and developing their own programs large and small.
With this in mind, we’ll be publishing a multi-part charcuterie series that looks at several different operations, but all run by chefs with a penchant for curing and aging all sorts of animal parts with a goal of bringing in some serious revenue for their restaurants.
Zach Allen and his Vegas salumi operation—not to mention his oversight of all of Batali’s dozen other restaurant salumi programs—was the first in this series of features. The second in the series takes a look at how chef John Toulze of the girl and the fig (restaurant, café, and catering) and Estate works his brand of charcuterie into his two restaurants and catering operation (see below). Seattle’s Adam Stevenson of Earth & Ocean at W Seattle is third in line, discussing his charcuterie program from a hotel chef perspective. The fourth piece goes small-scale with El Dorado Kitchen chef Justin Everett’s charcuterie on-a-shoestring.
For chef John Toulze, making good and safe charcuterie is “all about pH”—knowing that you’ve got the right amount of acid to kill off the bad stuff, but keep the good stuff. Of course, extensive reading, practice, and some trial and error, also contribute to a fine end product—and Toulze does plenty of that.
A self-taught charcutier, Toulze has been making all forms of charcuterie for nearly all of his life (he remembers witnessing his parents arguing over how to best make headcheese as a kid), and professionally for over a decade. As a novice, the chef started with what he calls “wet charcuterie,” country-style pâtés and mousses; years later, he’s graduated to smoked bacon, chorizo, rosette de Lyon, sopressata, and 18-month cured prosciuttos. All in all, Toulze and his team produce anywhere from 7 to 11 products for the two restaurants, café, and catering operation.
When it comes to the economy of charcuterie, Toulze sees making it in-house as a no-brainer. Where he once paid $7 a pound for outsourced bacon or upwards of $12 a pound for quality prosciutto, he’s now looking at getting in the raw cuts for a buck and some change per pound, plus the added benefit of knowing the meat’s source and having direct control over quality and production. “There is a tremendous opportunity for savings,” Toulze explains, “If you manage your staff, time, and space there really is not a product where your food cost won’t be amazing.”
But it’s not just about that amazing food cost that keeps Toulze keen on cured meat. He loves the process; he loves introducing people to new products; most of all, he loves having a story to tell about his food. “There a lot of food trends right now, but I think there’s one that never goes away and that’s the idea of handmade production—simple, ancestral foods that have a place and a story to be told.”